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In Θ, Bel and the Dragon is apparently assumed to be by the same writer as the rest of the Book of Daniel. So in Breshith Rabbah6464This has been attributed to Rabba bar Nachman of Pumbaditha, about a.d. 300, but is probably later. See, however, Etheridge, Jerus. and Tiberias, p. 143. on Gen. xxxvii. 24 we have nearly the words of v. 28 sq., introduced by “This is as it is written in Daniel” (Ball, 344a). In Raymond Martini’s Pugio fidei (Paris, 1651, p. 740) the Aramaic is given as בדניאל (see under ‘Chronology,’ p. 229).
If, however, it be presumed that Daniel is not the author; we are left without any clue to the writer’s name, except what is afforded us by the LXX title, which treats the piece as an extract from a prophecy of Habakkuk, son of Jesus. Most probably the minor prophet of that name is intended, though this has been doubted on chronological and on genealogical grounds; and the position of Bel and the Dragon in the MSS. lends no countenance to a connection with Habakkuk’s prophecy. Rothstein 186nevertheless, in Kautzsch, Apocr. (p. 178), regards it as certain that the minor prophet is meant; and so likewise do Schürer and Driver in their articles in Hauck’s Encyclopædia (I. 639), and in Hastings’ D. B. respectively; and Keil, who is referred to below (p. 188).
Still, it is curious that a Levite of the name of Jesus, who had sons, is mentioned in I. Esd. v. 58, and elsewhere in the same book. Further evidence, however, which might connect him with the LXX title, is not forthcoming. But it is noticeable that in Hab. ii. 18 sq. idolatry, probably Chaldean, is scoffed at in a tone not dissimilar to that of this work.
Eusebius and Apollinarius, in controversy with Porphyry, accept this title as correct (Churton, 390b). So Bugati (Milan, 1788, p. 163) treats the authorship of Habakkuk as the reason of the detached position of the fragment at the end of the book. Hesychius of Jerusalem, quoted under ‘Early Christian Literature,’ declines to express an opinion as to the identity of Habakkuk. The Synopsis sacr. Script.—referred to by Ball 350b) and Bissell (447) as if a genuine work of Athanasius—perhaps affords ground for a third theory. For it makes mention (after N. T. 187books, § 75) of a certain pseudo-epigraphic writing of ’Ἀμβακούμ which might perhaps be the προφητεία named in the LXX title. All things considered, the theory that the well-known prophet Habakkuk was meant by LXX seems the most probable.
But if Bel and the Dragon be merely the crystallization of what is called a ‘fluid myth,’ or traditional floating story, its original authorship is not merely unknown, but is undiscoverable, and was probably a doubtful matter even to those who first rendered it into Greek. This view accounts too, as nothing else seems satisfactorily to do, for the many changes, insertions, and omissions in different versions. Such stories, at any rate in their earlier days, are subject to variation in many points as the result of oral repetition. Still, the ‘fluidity’ of this piece is by no means so great as that of Tobit, where the variations are on a much wider scale.
If the ‘fluid myth’ theory be accepted, the original becomes an anonymous story, built up on the renown of Daniel, a piece of Haggadah in fact, as some, not unreasonably, have ventured to think; such as J. W. Etheridge, who classes these pieces under that head, or, as he styles them, “histories coloured with fable” (Jerusalem and Tiberias, 188Lond. 1856, p. 109). Reuss regards it as still more imaginative, deeming all except the temple to be ”reine Erfindung, und zwar eine ziemlich geistlose“ (O. T. vii. 269). But Prof. Sayce thinks that “the author was better acquainted with Babylon and Babylonian history than the other apocryphal writers” (Temple Bible, ‘Tobit,’ etc., Lond. 1903, pp. xiv, 95).
Furthermore it must be remembered that even if Bel and the Dragon was added to Daniel as an appendix by a later hand, there may still be truth in the story; its erroneousness is not necessarily proved, nor is it needful to assume, as is sometimes done, that all its events are fictitious. This seems to be done by G. H. Curteis (S. P. C. K. Comm., ‘Introd. to Hab.’), who writes: “The absurd legends with which the Rabbis and the author of Bel and the Dragon amused themselves are not worthy of serious attention.” And Keil also, in his Commentary on the Minor Prophets, while accepting the superscription of Cod. Chis. as supporting Habakkuk’s Levitic origin, regards the rest of the legend as “quite worthless” (Clark’s translation, pp. 49, 50). So, too, W. J. Deane (Pulpit Bible, 1898, ’Hab.’ p. 111) says, “The whole account is plainly unhistorical, and 189its connection with the canonical writer cannot be maintained for a moment.”
Supposing the story to be true, however, it may form an instance, both at its outset and its close, of what is recorded in Dan. vi. 28, of Daniel prospering in the reign of Cyrus the Persian. But, in the present state of our knowledge, speculations lead to no positive result, for the real author cannot be determined.
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